"Awake Ahmedabad! Awake!"
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
July 1st comes as a powerful reminder to each one of us, of the supreme sacrifice of two young men Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, who sacrificed their lives to save men and women from across the community divide.
The Rathyatra on the first day of July in 1946 once again unleashed unbridled passions with large sections of Ahmedabad city taking to the streets - killing, arsoning and looting. The city was engulfed in a communal conflagration, as never before.
Vasant and Rajab, two good friends and Seva Dal volunteers were very active in the freedom struggle and were ardent followers of Mahatma Gandhi. That fateful day, they were in the Congress office in Kand-ni-Sheri. Several times during the day, their heroic acts saved people from both communities. Late that afternoon, when they heard that some Dalit families were surrounded by a murderous mob, they went to the area to pacify the mob, but their pleadings fell on deaf ears. They had no alternative but to lie down in front of the mob to prevent their advance, saying that they could touch the Dalit families only over their dead bodies. The unrelenting mob lynched them to death then and there.
Full 65 years after their martyrdom, a fairly large section of Ahmedabad and in fact Gujarat, seems untouched by their heroic act. Communal harmony and creating bridges between the two communities does not seem to find a place in the mind-set of many. It is true, that token gestures and acts of cosmeticization, do take place time and again; however, everyone knows that these acts do not address the reality.
Almost ten years after the Gujarat Carnage of 2002, the victims still cry for justice. Ahmedabad (and several other towns and cities of Gujarat) continues to be sharply divided on communal lines. If one is a Muslim one cannot easily buy / rent an apartment / shopping establishment easily in the western up-market of the city. Bye-laws of some Cooperative Housing Societies clearly instruct their members not to sell / rent out their flats to Muslims. Blatant discrimination against minorities continues in several other sectors very specially in education and employment.
In this the 600th year of Ahmedabad city founded by the visionary Ahmed Shah who was able to transcend the narrow confines of religion, Ahmedabadis and the people of Gujarat need to celebrate the memory of Vasant-Rajab, true icons of Communal Harmony.
The rich heritage which these martyrs have left us must be kept alive through very concrete and meaningful actions of accepting one another. It is high time we all realise this. Awake Ahmedabad! Awake!
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
30th June, 2011
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052